12 may, are mayors a level up ?

The relics of organisational structures larger than local councils but smaller than national government are a rarely visited cabinet of curiosities. The next wave is emerging. In england at least, "metro" mayors and combined authorities - let's just call them mayors for short - are beginning to look like a distinct tier. To every part of government, the layer below is incompetent and that above remote, but mayors are shaping up well as statutory supercouncils between voluntary partnerships like the northern powerhouse and western gateway and local authorities that quickly hit borders in search of economic development levers over transport, spatial planning and business support, the powers better managed at the functional economic area level that CAs were designed to extract from central government. Noting london is slightly different and the north east still evolving, mayors now cover 41% of england's population, 43% of its economic output and 14% of its land mass, the disparity no surprise as mayors were designed for big cities: london in 2000, and then manchester the first to use the now-standard CA model. The original modern city was closely followed by (full names here) liverpool, birmingham, tees valley, bristol, and cambridge, then sheffield and newcastle and finally leeds. Mayors will grow: 10 areas tried and failed, and at least 8 more are in the works. The geography is messy but symptomatic of the system's strength, generally born from council's upwards pressure rather than a central government blueprint. Indeed, mayors (aside london) have little power to act independently of their council leaders. Most integrate with LEPs, and some pragmatically stray into policing (the london, manchester and leeds mayors are also the PCC) and health (manchester). Though they show little signs of it yet, there is an economic logic in the mayors quietly looking inwards at the scaling up of service delivery, starting with non-core shared service centre type functions, though even that risks treading on their patrons' toes. A wonk sounding but important driver of eu integration is qualified majority voting, meaning no veto over decisions that apply to all. That is replicated for some CA decisions, though not for its most controversial power to raise revenues (via council tax), as birmingham, and manchester on spatial planning, found out. Such powers drove the evolution from technocratic CA to directly elected mayor. This crossed party political lines, being started by labour then continued by the conservatives, with neither a particular champion and both hesitant, a sign they are genuinely independent sources of democratic legitimacy. In the first round of elections, half the mayors (plus london) were from each of the two main parties, but this time around, with turnout up, they tipped decisively to labour, who now have 8 of the 10. As ben houchen and "king of the north" andy burnham showed, being mayor offers a wider soft-power platform if skilfully used, alongside the single point of accountability for negotiations that george osborne back in the day insisted on in return for powers and budgets. The mayors have progressed, with more likely to join the party. In one of the most centralised countries in the world, that is a good thing.